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Tackling Racial Disparity In Breast Cancer Survival

All women are at risk for breast cancer. The American Cancer Society, in fact, estimates about 246,000 new cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed in the coming year. Some 40,000 American women will die from this disease. While women of African-American descent are technically at lower risk for developing breast cancer than their Caucasian counterparts, black women are much more likely to die from this disease.

The mortality rate disparity is rather stark. It is estimated that black women are 42 percent more likely to die from breast cancer than whites. While the full reasons behind the major disparity in outcomes is not completely understood, health professionals have begun to see a possible link between the recommended mammogram screening age and the age at which black women are contracting this form of cancer. Screening guidelines at present call for routine mammograms starting around the age of 50. Black women, however, are more likely to develop breast cancer under the age of 40 than women from other racial groups. Black women under the age of 35, in fact, have an incidence rate of breast cancer that is twice the rate of that found in white women of the same age.

The statistics related to black women and breast cancer have given rise to an ongoing push on the part of some clinicians, public health and civic rights advocates to change the screening recommendations for black women. Some are lobbying that all black women should be deemed high risk and allowed to undergo routine mammograms at earlier ages. Others, however, say there is not sufficient data to support screening recommendation changes. How soon a change in protocol may or may not be instituted remains unclear.

As the battle over screening continues, all women are urged to talk to their healthcare providers about their personal breast cancer risks. Women at higher risk for the disease may, in fact, find mammograms become a part of their healthcare routine much earlier than the age of 50. Routine physicals and self-examinations remain important tools for all women, as well. While black women may find themselves at a lower overall risk for this disease, they do face the potential for poorer outcomes should breast cancer develop. With that in mind, it is critical to open the lines of communication with a healthcare provider to obtain case-specific recommendations about risks, prevention and screening.

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